“Dear one, I am here for you”
I left the family reunion that year more triggered than ever before. I was ready to completely write my family off and never return again.
Through painful, albeit familiar, experiences, I was once again reminded that I don’t belong, that I’m not seen, understood, and valued.
I had to fly home early to attend a special city council meeting on a major issue we were involved with. I was home alone for a few days, waiting for Karina and the kids to follow.
I walked into the meeting, expecting only a handful of people. I was shocked to see the room packed, with standing room only. I was further shocked to see how many of my neighbors were there.
I had walked into an ambush.
A couple in our neighborhood, who had never once said a word to us, had made a bunch of assumptions about us, all of which were completely false. Based on those assumptions, they had gone door-to-door to spread lies about us and solicit support against us.
I sat, utterly stunned and bewildered, as the husband stood and spoke against us and our cause, telling lie after lie. Not only had he misconstrued the facts, but the things he said we had done wrong were actually acts of charity on our part.
My character and integrity were publicly maligned and our neighborhood was against us based on blatant lies from people who didn’t even know us.
I had left my family feeling like I had a knife in my gut. I left the meeting feeling like my neighbors had grabbed the hilt of the knife and twisted it. The shame and humiliation were almost too much to bear.
In agony, I went home to an empty house and sat alone on the couch, staying with my feelings, exploring them for insight.
And then it hit me like a tsunami.
The deep ache in my heart came from not feeling like I had a home anywhere. My family wasn’t home, and now my neighborhood. Where is home for me? Where do I belong? I want to go home!
I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions that racked my body. I lay on the couch in the fetal position and sobbed and sobbed. The grieving flowed from what felt like a bottomless well. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life.
But underneath the grief and pain there was an indescribable sweetness. I was seeing myself for the first time. I was acknowledging my suffering. I was holding myself in compassion.
When the sobs finally subsided, I felt purged, healed, and whole.
I learned something that day.
I learned that the only way we can heal is to stop shaming ourselves and to hold ourselves in a deep and abiding compassion for all our wounds and pent-up sorrow.
We close off our hearts through so many defense mechanisms because we’re so afraid of opening ourselves to vulnerability and of fully feeling our grief. But it’s only as we open our hearts to grief and hold it in compassion that we can be truly healed.
As mindfulness and spiritual teacher Jack Kornfield explains in his book, A Path With Heart,
“True maturation on the spiritual path requires that we discover the depth of our wounds: our grief from the past, unfulfilled longing, the sorrow that we have stored up during the course of our lives. This healing is necessary if we are to embody spiritual life lovingly and wisely.
“Unhealed pain and rage, unhealed traumas from childhood abuse or abandonment, become powerful unconscious forces in our lives. Until we are able to bring awareness and understanding to our old wounds, we will find ourselves repeating their patterns of unfulfilled desire, anger, and confusion over and over again.”
We all have our own unique traumas and wounds. We bury them in distractions and addictions, avoidant work and frivolous play, “tough guy” attitudes and “little old me” meekness facades, public fits of anger and private bouts of depression.
Even worse, we suppress and deny our wounds altogether. As the Christian mystic Simone Weil wrote,
“The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”
To add insult to injury, we then shame ourselves for all our defense mechanisms because we see them as “sins.” What we don’t see underneath these “sins” is that we’re wounded and have deep unmet needs.
What we need to transform our behavior and be truly healed isn’t willpower or self-flagellation, but rather self-care and self-compassion.
D.S. Barnett, writing in The Sun magazine, shows the importance of self-compassion. She writes,
“My mother always assured me that unspeakable punishments were bound to befall any child as naughty as I was. ‘If I were you,’ she’d say, ‘I’d be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear God would strike me dead.’ She would speak these words softly, regretfully, as though saddened by her errant daughter’s fate. I thought myself unloved and unlovable — not only by my own mother, but by God himself.”
She describes years of horrendous abuse, then continues:
“The most devastating words my mother ever spoke to me came when I asked her if she loved me.
“She answered, ‘How could anyone ever love you?’”
To survive this abuse, she developed a childhood ritual:
“From the age of five or six until I was well into my teens, whenever I had trouble sleeping, I would slip out from under my covers and steal into the kitchen for a bit of bread or cheese, which I would carry back to bed with me. There, I’d pretend my hands belonged to someone else, a comforting, reassuring being without a name — an angel, perhaps. The right hand would feed me little bites of cheese or bread as the left hand stroked my cheeks and hair. My eyes closed, I would whisper softly to myself, ‘There, there. Go to sleep. You’re safe now. Everything will be all right. I love you.’”
When I read her heart-wrenching story, I was reminded of a phrase taught by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, You are Here:
“If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: ‘Dear one, I am here for you.’
“You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly…and say, ‘Dear one, I know you are there, and I am going to take care of you,’ just as you would with your crying baby…”
Healing begins when we replace that critical voice in our heads that tells us, “How could you be so stupid?”, “You always screw up,” “You’re not worthy,” with the compassionate voice that tells us, “Dear one, I am here for you.”
For it’s only when we feel like we have enough care and support that we can open our heart to grieving — and ultimately to healing.
To open your heart to self-compassion, download my free toolkit now, then listen to this beautiful song by Andrew Peterson: “Be Kind to Yourself.”